Published Oct 16, 2015The Canadian horror anthology A Christmas Horror Story is the logical product of its origins. Though the promotional campaign cites the directors as being involved with the highly entertaining and wholly acerbic werewolf movie Ginger Snaps (Sullivan directed the passable sequel, Unleashed, and Harvey directed the abysmal Ginger Snaps Back), the three are more recently aligned with the little-seen Super Channel anthology series, Darknet.
Like the show, this amalgamation of five (four plus a poorly utilized framing device with William Shatner) shorts is blended together with both thematic (Christmas Eve) and literal crossovers. Unlike the rash of recent horror anthology films, which present each short in succession, A Christmas Horror Story blends the stories together to create a build-up of tension and an ultimate climax, adhering to a more traditionalist presentation of a singular functioning narrative. Also, like the show, the individual short films are of varying quality and appeal, ranging from dreadful to moderately entertaining to surprisingly clever.
On the dreadful end of the spectrum is a found-footage faux-documentary insert about three high school students that break into a closed murder scene, which sadly takes up a rather large portion of the 98-minute runtime. It unfolds much like a Grave Encounters film, with three bland interchangeable teens (Zoé De Grand Maison, Shannon Kook and Alex Ozerov) wandering around a dilapidated, abandoned crime scene with video cameras, occasionally running into things that make them jump and scream. There's an overriding sense of religious anxiety — crosses and nuns pop up intermittently — that climaxes in a bizarrely antiquated cautionary tale about the dangers of giving into sexual impulse before marriage. And since there's really nothing of note beyond terribly executed jump scares and a bit of bloody crotch, this short ultimately just serves as annoying filler between the other, more successful, instalments.
More entertaining and probably the closest this holiday genre piece gets to scary is the changeling short, wherein bickering parents (Oluniké Adeliyi and Adrian Holmes) temporarily lose their son in the woods while stealing a Christmas tree. In acknowledging female intuition and maternal instinct, this segment does prove to be more thematically interesting than the others. Once the family returns home, the mother immediately recognizes abnormalities in her son, which manifest in some genuinely creepy scenes with a rather shocking Oedipal undertone. The basic instigator of conflict here is Judeo-Christian morality, which technically makes sense, given that the overriding theme is that of the "naughty or nice" ethos, but the overly simplistic way in which this world is divided into black and white feels exceedingly preachy.
This is even more apparent in the Krampus short, wherein a family of complete assholes (save the teen daughter) is hunted down (quite lethargically) by the mythical anti-Santa. Outside of the extended scenes of people running through the snow or sitting around breathing and peeking over things, everything about this particular segment is sheer heavy-handed didacticism, serving to remind us that greed, selfishness and rude behaviour will ultimate prove karmic. Not once is there an observed irony about the fact that Christmas is essentially now a capitalist holiday.
Similarly disappointing is the short that should, in theory, be the funniest, most entertaining entry, wherein Santa's elves start turning into zombies and attacking their master (after calling Mrs. Claus a "reindeer-fucking snow whore"). At first, the crass dialogue and nasty set-up seem to be offering an entertaining diversion, only to devolve into a protracted scene of Santa standing around killing an endless series of elves that run at him with the same attack strategy. It's all quite dull, but does have an interesting twist towards the end that effectively plays with notions of subjectivity.
Overall, A Christmas Horror Story is passable; it's not outright awful, and only one short verges on unwatchable. The issue is just how astonishingly mediocre and shallow it is. There's just nothing of interest being said, and the basic handling of horror is too familiar to scare or titillate. At the very least, the trio of directors could have found some creative ways to scare the audience, but even that's ultimately a missed opportunity, much like pretty much everything else in the film.